Wednesday, November 25, 2009

From the Times: a misleading "Atlantic Yards" photo, a buffing of "tenacious" Ratner, and no rebuttal to claims of benefits

There are some unsurprisingly dismaying aspects to the front-page New York Times article today, headlined in print "Atlantic Yards Wins Appeal To Seize Land" and online as Ruling Lets Atlantic Yards Seize Land.

First, though the article correctly states that the state would exercise eminent domain, the shorthand headline inaccurately casts the inanimate "Atlantic Yards" as the actor.

Public benefit?

Second, the Times quotes developer Bruce Ratner, unrebutted, as saying "“The courts have made it clear that this project represents a significant public benefit for the people of Brooklyn and the entire city.”

The courts have made no such determination. Rather, the Court of Appeals decision issued yesterday was based on a record compiled in 2006 by the Empire State Development Corporation. The assertions in that record have not been vetted by the courts and there's much evidence--such as from the New York City Independent Budget Office--casting doubt on official claims.

"On the railyard"

Third, the original version of the article posted online said that the "arena would be built on an 8.5-acre railyard;" it took several messages to convince the Times to revise that description to "an 8.5-acre railyard and on adjacent property." (That's a basic error the Times has previously corrected.)

Actually, part of the arena would be built over the western segment of that railyard, occupying less than 30% of the total railyard acreage.

Another misleading photo

Fourth, and most important, the Times published a picture (above) of only a fraction of the Vanderbilt Yard, the railyard, and called it Atlantic Yards. The photo covers the railyard and a few buildings between Sixth and Carlton avenues and Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street, or Block 1120, outlined in red on the map below left.

No plaintiffs in the eminent domain case live or own property on Block 1120. Nor is Block 1120 included in the first phase of the project.

The two buildings pictured, which are not owned by Forest City Ratner, would not be subject to eminent domain in the first phase and, if the project does not go much beyond the arena block, may never be demolished.

Only the lot in the right side near the top of the photo--Lot 35--might be part of the first phase. The Empire State Development Corporation's Technical Memorandum issued in June, which explained two phases for eminent domain, cited the need, "if necessary for the construction and operation of the LIRR rail yard, easements or other property interests on Lot 35 on Block 1120." Forest City Ratner has "closed on a leasehold" on that lot, according to the ESDC.

The Times could much more credibly have reproduced a photo (right) of Dean Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues, which it ran accompanying a July 2006 article on blight, especially since this street includes buildings that would be subject to eminent domain for the arena block.

Loaded language

The caption attached to the photo today contains some loaded language: Atlantic Yards, in Brooklyn, has been a long-running story of a tenacious developer and his implacable opposition.

That casts Bruce Ratner in a more positive light than it does those fighting the project, but the adjectives could just as easily be reversed to: Atlantic Yards, in Brooklyn, has been a long-running story of an implacable developer and his tenacious opposition.

After all, in a David-and-Goliath fight, the David is usually "tenacious."

But maybe the Timesfolk were busy reading Crain's New York Business, which earlier this month dubbed Ratner "Tenacious B."

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